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Jews in America: The History of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

Federations have been part of American Jewish community life for over a century. As early as the 1880s, Jewish communities realized that one organization could raise funds more efficiently than dozens of agencies competing for community support.

Organized fundraising in the Washington Jewish community began in 1925, when the Jewish Welfare Association was founded. Before then, many agencies had been raising funds and providing services to Jewish Washington on their own. The Jewish Welfare Association drew these agencies into an organized group, the precursor of today's federated approach.

The national United Jewish Appeal was born in 1939 as a merger of the United Palestine Appeal and the fundraising arm of the Joint Distribution Committee, which in the aftermath of World War I, had been meeting many of the social service needs of European Jewry. The Jewish Welfare Association became the Washington arm of the United Jewish Appeal. The new organization focused primarily on the needs of Jews in Europe and in what was then Palestine. Only a small portion of the money raised supported local agencies.

As Washington Jewry grew, so did the needs of the community, and more agencies opened to meet those needs. By 1976, it was obvious that the time had come for an organized fundraising effort to support local agencies. Our local United Jewish Appeal expanded its mandate and became UJA Federation of Greater Washington, the formal coordinator of a community-wide campaign for local beneficiary agencies as well as for Israel and overseas.

In 1999, UJA Federation became The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Our new name more accurately reflects the broad range of commitments we make worldwide as well as our function as the central fundraising agency of the Greater Washington Jewish community.

Today, Federation provides funds for 37 local beneficiary agencies, schools, youth groups, and community service programs serving more than 180,000 Jews throughout a 1,500-square-mile area that includes Northern Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. In addition, Federation supports 22 national and international partners-the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee among them-that provide rescue, relief and resettlement to Jews anywhere in the world.

The Federation is one of 189 similar volunteer-driven organizations in the United States and Canada committed to the renaissance of the Jewish people in North America, in Israel, and throughout the world.

Sources: The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington